peteg's blog - noise - books - 2023 04 22 Burdick TheNinthWave

Eugene Burdick: The Ninth Wave (1956)

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Burdick's first novel, and clunky it is. The whole conceit is summarised by the aphorism hate plus fear equals power and exemplified by surfing, politics and getting mugged in California. Main character Michael Freesmith (it's right there in the name) is repellent, and at times I wondered if Burdick had embedded his thoughts on manufacturing election wins into the structure of the book itself. It's not that clever though: Mike really is just vacuously repellent.

Perhaps what dates this the most are its claims about the American middle class (merely a myth to many now) and how it might manipulated by shame (an obvious fallacy in the privacy of the polling booth). Putting aside the obsolete technology (trained ladies reading punch cards!) his sketch of data-driven electioneering was a decent foretelling. I tend to feel that the impact individuals (politicians) have on history is diminishing, at least in the U.S.A. where general political gridlock has provoked a retreat to lawfare. The conclusion — effectively an assassination or coup d'├ętat — is therefore fanciful.

Goodreads. Orville Prescott for the New York Times at the time: artless but don't let that stop you from reading it. Oh yes, there's a poker scene and shade is thrown late on the strongly-presented convictions. Also John Nerber reviewed it through a teleological lens: so dated! While Burdick was right to be worried, his later efforts with Lederer (The Ugly American and Sarkhan) are far sharper.